If obesity is defined as a disease, as the AMA is proposing, it is currently at epidemic levels in the United States. But, if it’s a disease, then one’s personal responsibility regarding poor eating habits and getting enough exercise would make little if any difference in how obese a person is — obesity would be the result of genetics, or other things beyond our control.
Just how major of a problem is obesity in America?
America has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. More than a third of all Americans are obese, and another third are considered to be overweight. Besides a host of long and short-term medical issues that people who are obese experience, an entire industry has sprung up which has its raison d’etre (reason for existing) as being either to help people who are obese, or to convince people who are obese that the products they offer, like fast food or food high in corn syrup, is not bad if eaten in moderation.
The economic costs of obesity are staggering, though the costs are the very ways certain businesses earn their money. Obesity is both a burden to the United States and the world, and a boon to the businesses that cater to people who are obese. This includes businesses as mundane as ones which design clothing, to ones which, like the AMA and drug companies, struggle to control and end obesity.
Even these companies and doctors, however heartfelt their intentions might be, owe their very existence to the obesity problems of others. What is the incentive, then, for these doctors and mega-corporations to find ways to curb and eliminate obesity?
Obesity costs Americans more than $190 billion annually in higher medical costs, and possibly as much as $450 billion in indirect costs, such as lost productivity.
How will the AMA benefit if obesity is defined as a disease?
If obesity is defined as a disease, and one further degree of personal responsibility is taken out of our hands, how will the AMA benefit, if at all?
If obesity is defined as a disease, then the doctors who are members of the AMA and who have any stake in any medical issues related to people being overweight will then be eligible to receive more federal dollars. This will be done by getting obesity treatments covered under government health plans.
The AMA’s definition of obesity as a disease will mean that products such as diet drugs and bariatric surgery would then be covered by Medicare and private insurance companies would likely follow suit, resulting in yet further increases in the insurance that the American public pays.
What would happen, though, if obesity was not declared to be a disease? The costs of diet drugs and bariatric surgery would not go away; it’s just that the American public’s insurance policies wouldn’t pay for it, except in cases of morbid obesity. Insurance already currently covers those costs, at least, in part. Instead, the cost would come directly out of the pockets of those who are obese.
Obesity would be their responsibility, since it wouldn’t be defined as being a “disease.” But, while obesity affects people across all economic levels, it affects a greater percentage of people in the lowest socioeconomic stratus, those individuals who can least afford to pay for the associated medical costs. Either these people would then have to just accept that they can’t afford to pay for their needed drugs and surgery, suffer and eventually die; or, their costs would be passed on to the rest of us in higher premiums and health-related costs. The medical costs would not go away, as if by magic.
If defining obesity as a disease is not the solution, what is?
Defining obesity as a “disease” would take the responsibility of our weight problems off of us, and onto the shoulders of companies like those which produce and market foods which are high in sugar, fat, and calories. They actually ought to be held accountable, but nobody holds a gun to the heads of consumers, saying that they must buy foods that are bad for them, or be shot.
While there is no way to suddenly reverse the trend of obesity overnight, there are ways to begin heading down that road. Making P.E. classes mandatory in grade school through high school, every day children are in attendance, is one such step, as is an added stress on the importance of health across the curriculum.
American schools went from having P.E. classes be mandatory five days a week to having them be mandatory maybe three days a week, at the most. While obesity definitely existed in the past when P.E. classes were more a part of the curriculum of public schools, it was less of a problem then that it is now.
Simply adding more P.E. classes won’t make the slightest dent in the current population of the public who are obese, though over time it might lessen the percentage of children who are obese, and over further time, adults who are obese.
For now, though, America is facing a future in which the inherent medical costs of obesity must come from somewhere, namely from either tax dollars or higher insurance payments. Either way, we all will end up paying for the associated costs.
Diets, under a doctor’s supervision, work, especially when combined with an exercise program. TV series such as Extreme Weight Loss and The Greatest Loser are proof that people can take back control over their own lives and eating habits, and can lose weight and keep it off.
It’s not cheap, though, as the people on these programs get credit cards from Walmart to pay for their food, and have their houses outfitted with exercise equipment, and they have the benefit of transformational coaches, nutritionists, and doctors, who are paid for by the television companies who produce the programs.
People can, and do, lose weight on their own and keep it off; but, it is so much easier to fall back into old routines and patterns, and into a cycle of self-hatred and depression, with the only “bright” moments being eating the next cookie, slice of cake, or candy bar.
Is obesity a disease or is it the result of poor eating habits?
I am not a medical expert, by any means. My definition of what “obesity” is doesn’t matter, really, one way or the other.
However, even if obesity is eventually defined as being a “disease” by the AMA, that doesn’t then mean that people suddenly shouldn’t take responsibility for how they got overweight, and that they shouldn’t try to lose weight and get healthier.
Becoming obese doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does losing the excess weight. But, as individuals and as a country, giving into obesity is not an option.
What do you believe obesity is — a disease or the result of poor eating habits? Take the brief quiz below and let your opinion be known!
Written by: Douglas Cobb